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In Sex Crimes, Alcohol is the Weapon of Choice

Sexual perpetrators are more likely to use alcohol to subdue their sexual assault victims than guns, threats and fists, according to The Gazette. The issue of alcohol abuse and its role in sex crimes, particularly in the military, has caused the Department of Defense to redefine and label alcohol as a weapon. Today we will look at the background behind the new label, share a current case and explain what action is being taken to make a change.


Background Behind the New Label:

While alcohol has been known to be a contributing factor in sexual assault cases, an article in The Gazette stated that alcohol “is thought to play a role in nearly half of the almost 6,000 sexual assaults reported across the Defense Department last year.” A Task and Purpose article recorded Katherine Booth, chief trial deputy and chief of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office sexual assault unit, saying, “When you’re talking about the offender using alcohol as a way to gain entry to their victim, to get their victim into a vulnerable state to incapacitate them, that’s exactly what it is — they’re using it as a means of a weapon to get that access where they otherwise wouldn’t have that access.”

“20,000 of the military’s 1.3 million active-duty service members were the victims of at least one sexual assault in the past year, comprising 4.9% of women and 1% of men,” according to the 2014 RAND Military Workplace study. A Task and Purpose article focuses on alcohol as a significant factor in these cases. “Almost half of female service members who reported being sexually assaulted in the past year said they or their assailant had been drinking alcohol. One-fifth of male sexual assault victims in the military also reported the involvement of alcohol.” Task and Purpose stated that “Sexual predators who repeatedly feed drinks to unsuspecting victims with intent to commit sexual assault use alcohol as a weapon in two ways, according to Booth: to incapacitate them physically and mentally during the assault, and to discredit them if they go to the authorities.”

The Gazette shared that “In a December Pentagon report, the military calls alcohol a weapon in its latest sexual assault prevention guidance for commanders, echoing a statement made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in May.” It is important to note, however, that victims who had been drinking when the crime occurred are far less likely to report the attack.  Booth told The Gazette “This combination of alcohol and sex assault is often a huge factor in the underreporting of sexual assault. There is a ton of misplaced self-blame there.”

 

Alcohol Used as a Weapon – Trial in Boulder, Colorado:

In January, Air Force Academy junior cadet Daniel Ryerson was arrested and charged in state court with sexually assaulting an inebriated female classmate after a night of party-hopping in Boulder on November 1, 2014. The Gazette reports that Ryerson and the cadet victim reported that they had been drinking together before going to several parties. “During the parties, where police say Ryerson gained entry from strangers by offering alcohol, the woman told officers she consumed several drinks containing hard alcohol supplied by Ryerson.”

The article further explains that a witness at one of the parties who didn’t know Ryerson or the victim, said that “Ryerson escorted the stumbling female cadet into a bathroom where the two were behind a locked door for 20 minutes.” It is said that Ryerson carried the unconscious female cadet from the party. According to The Gazette, the “victim referred to Ryerson as her ‘wingman’ during a sexual assault exam at a hospital, according to court documents.”

According to an Out There Colorado article, Ryerson’s attorney, John K. Pineau, of Denver stated, “The Boulder County District Attorney has filed life sentence charges against cadet Ryerson.” He explained that Ryerson will be presumed innocent until there is evidence that can prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Pineau stated, “There is no such evidence.” However, the same article states that in the court papers the victim reported that she blacked out and woke up in a hotel room with Ryerson. The article states that “Although court papers say Ryerson denied having sex with the woman, DNA evidence emerged that tied him to the crime, court papers allege.”

Ryerson is currently out on bail and attending class at the academy. He cannot have any contact with the victim and is banned from possession of firearms. A preliminary hearing is set for March 12 in Boulder.

 

What Steps Are Being Taken to Make a Change?

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for a review of alcohol policies in an attempt to diminish sexual violence. This effort involves a department-wide review of alcohol policies, revisions of the policies to more effectively address the risks involved with alcohol, including the risk of alcohol being used as a weapon. To clarify, it states in the Task and Purpose article, that “Booth isn’t arguing that alcohol should be legally defined as a deadly weapon in sex assault cases in the same sense as a knife held to a victim’s throat.” Booth stated, “Legally, there’s not going to be a legal definition that goes into encompassing alcohol as a per se weapon. But besides that, I still stand by my statement that alcohol is a weapon that is used in sexual assaults, and that is true; there’s a very close connection between alcohol and sexual assault.”

The Gazette reports that Air Force Academy and other military bases are advising workers who serve alcohol in clubs to watch for predators who may use alcohol as a weapon. Col. Kirstin Reimann, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon explained that another step involves training commanders to “work with community partners on responsible alcohol sales practices and bystander intervention training for alcohol servers.” Additionally, academy leaders have attended a presentation on sexual assault and how alcohol can be used as a weapon.

According to The Gazette, “Cadets took a pledge last fall to intercede if they see a classmate, or anyone else, at risk of sexual assault. Other work includes educating cadets on responsible drinking and giving more help to victims.” Academy spokesman, Lt. Col. Brus Vidal wrote about how challenging these issues are in an email to The Gazette, “The issues of binge drinking and sexual assault are complex, societal challenges that all colleges and universities across the nation struggle with. The academy, like all other college campuses, is not immune to these national problems, and we remain committed to addressing and eliminating both sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

Alcohol as a weapon

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